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Brexiteer cabinet ministers in plan to shift May on EU deal

Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom, Chris Grayling and Penny Mordaunt

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Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom, Chris Grayling and Penny Mordaunt

A group of five ministers in Theresa May’s top team are hoping to persuade her to make changes to her draft Brexit deal, the BBC understands.

Andrea Leadsom, leader of the Commons, is believed to be coordinating the group.

The five ministers include Michael Gove and Liam Fox – who on Friday publicly threw their support behind the PM – plus Penny Mordaunt and Chris Grayling.

Mrs May published her draft withdrawal agreement with the EU on Wednesday.

The 585-page document sets out the terms of the UK’s departure and includes details such as how much money will be paid to the EU, details of the transition period and citizens rights.

The deal prompted the start of a tumultuous few days for Mrs May, with two senior ministers and several other junior ministers and aides resigning.

Some Conservative Brexiteers who are unhappy with the agreement have also been submitting letters of no-confidence in Mrs May. If 48 letters are sent, then a vote will be triggered and Mrs May could face a challenge to her leadership.

On Friday evening, it emerged that Mrs Leadsom hopes to work with the four other ministers to change a specific part of the draft withdrawal deal regarding what is known as the Irish backstop – one of the main sticking points in talks with Brussels.

Both sides want to avoid a hard Northern Ireland border so they agreed to put in place a “backstop” – or back-up plan – in case they can’t reach a long-term trade agreement.

The backstop would mean that Northern Ireland would stay aligned to some EU rules on things like food products and goods standards, which critics say is unacceptable.

According to the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, the group of ministers want a change in the text to include the possibilities of new technology or a free trade deal as alternative solutions to the Irish border issue.

The group’s plans were described as a “work in progress”, and a “last ditch attempt to find something to put to the Commons”.

And a source said of Theresa May’s deal: “Even if you don’t mind it ideologically, you can’t be fooled about getting it through the Commons.”

The source suggested that if changes weren’t made, resignations from Brexiteers still in the cabinet were “not off the table”.

New Brexit secretary

Earlier, Stephen Barclay was picked as the new Brexit secretary, replacing Dominic Raab who quit on Thursday, as Mrs May sought to fill her cabinet following the resignations.

The MP for North East Cambridgeshire – who is a Leave supporter – has been a health minister since January.

A No 10 spokesman indicated that Mr Barclay would focus on domestic preparations for Brexit, rather than negotiations.

In a tweet, Mr Barclay said he was “looking forward” to getting to work.

Mr Barclay becomes the third Brexit secretary since the role was created, after Mr Raab and David Davis – who resigned over Mrs May’s Brexit plans in July.

He has been congratulated on Twitter by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, who said he was “a star” when he worked in her department.

But Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “After two years of negotiation, the prime minister has failed to deliver a Brexit deal that can command the support of Parliament.

“A new face in the Brexit department will do nothing to bring this divided government back together.”

Meanwhile, Amber Rudd has been named the new work and pensions secretary – replacing Esther McVey, the second senior minister who resigned over the PM’s Brexit plans on Thursday.

In her first interview in her new job, Ms Rudd called on any colleagues planning to submit letters of no-confidence in Mrs May to “think again”.

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Amber Rudd visited her new workplace on Friday evening

“This is a time for pulling together, for making sure we remember who we are here to serve, who we are here to help: that’s the whole of the country.”

In other developments:

  • It emerged Environment Secretary Mr Gove – who the BBC understood had at one point been contemplating his position before rallying behind Mrs May – turned down the role of Brexit secretary following Mr Raab’s departure
  • The mini-reshuffle also means John Penrose will join the Northern Ireland office, replacing Shailesh Vara, and Kwasi Kwarteng will go to the Department for Exiting the EU, replacing Suella Braverman

The draft withdrawal agreement for Brexit that Mrs May agreed with her cabinet on Wednesday has already been signed off by negotiators from both the UK and EU.

Media captionBBC correspondents explain 585 pages faster than you could print them… on a BBC photocopier

But the deal led to a backlash from some Brexit-supporting MPs, including Mr Raab and Ms McVey.

Around 20 Tory MPs have publicly called for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, with more thought to have written to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee to call for a vote on her leadership.

But Mrs May responded to critics saying she will stay in No 10 and see the deal through.

Brexiteer cabinet ministers in plan to shift May on EU deal}

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